Austin Veteran Arts Festival 2019

Dionysus in America

Oct 11-20 | 8pm | The Vortex

A radical re-writing of The Bacchae from acclaimed poet and combat veteran, Jenny Pacanowski

“sharp and clear and mesmerizing,” 

-Paula Vogel
Poster advertising the theatrical production, Dionysus in America, at The Vortex from October 11 through 20

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Directed by Karen Alvarado and J.M. Meyer, Thinkery & Verse

Produced by Canopy Theatre @ the VORTEX for the Austin Veterans ArtS FESTIVAL

October 10-20, 8pm

Thinkery & Verse, thanks to the artistic and financial support of Canopy Theatre, Art Spark, the City of Austin, and The VORTEX, is proud to present Dionysus in America, the radical re-writing of The Bacchae from acclaimed poet and combat veteran Jenny Pacanowksi. The play will be produced as a part of 2019 Austin Veterans Arts Festival, and features a dynamic collaboration between military veterans artists and their families, an Iraqi composer, a diverse starring cast, and an all-Austin community chorus in the ranks of the Bacchae.

Dionysus in America imagines a dystopia in which women suffer endless harassment, and right-wing politics wrenches away women’s control over their own bodies; in response, American women heed the call of Dionysus, and flee to new, strange, euphoric rites in Iraq, the cradle of civilization. General Pentheus, leader of the American war machine, swears to go to the Mesopotamia, liberate the women, and drag them back to the United States. Unfortunately, he operates unaware that his uncle, a transformed and unrecognizable Dionysus, God of ritual madness, has decided to punish America’s hubris for rejecting his mother, his divinity, and his seemingly inexplicable rites of devotion. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning  playwright Paula Vogel describes Jenny Pacanwoski’s debut play as “sharp and clear and mesmerizing,” and featuring a brilliant inversion of one of Euripides’ main themes. “Paula Vogel is right,” says Karen Alvarado, co-director of the project. “Jenny’s voice is like ripping an electrical wire out of the wall and into plain sight. It takes what we think about the Bacchae, and makes us feel it.” Co-director J.M. (‘Johnny’) Meyer adds “Jenny retains Euripides’ unique poetic verve, and super-charges it with her incredible flair for capturing the sound and meaning of ‘boy-talk’, the stuff you still here in dick-whipped frat houses on West Campus—and in the American military in which Jenny and I both served.”

Jenny’s play began as a part of a special veteran-oriented project with Aquila Theatre in New York City. Alvarado and Meyer then workshopped the play with Pacanowksi to hone its edge on the ‘iron-biting whetstone’ of Austin audiences. To write the play, Jenny Pacanowski carefully traced the steps of Vietnam veteran (and Austin luminary) Paul Woodruff. Pacanowski’s new play conforms to its classical model in structure, while upending expectations at every other turn.

J. M. “Johnny” Meyer argues that, “This play is rooted in America. It never really depicts the Middle East, but instead relies on our fears and misconceptions about so-called alien cultures to manipulate the audiences’ emotions. Euripides’ The Bacchae shouldn’t just turn you on. That’s not what the play is about. It should challenge you. Most theatrical performances of The Bacchae lean in Dionysus’ favor. Given the dystopian context, and Austin’s fear of cultural diversity vis-a-vis other large, American cities, we think this will be a tougher crawl.” Thinkery & Verse expressly wishes to shout out some exciting hooks in the project. Dionysus in America represents the first collaboration between J. M. Meyer and Allison Zadrozny since 2010’s award-winning American Volunteers (2010 Mitchell Award at the University of Texas, Long-list for the Dylan Thomas Prize in the United Kingdom, Austin Critics’ Table nomination for Best New Play). The plays costume coordinators, Heather Ross and Karen Alvarado, wish to expressly thank military veteran Maxine Lain for her costume construction, and many thousands of volunteer hours to the Austin theater community, and to the vital Shakespeare at Winedale program.  Special thanks to James and Laurel Loehlin at Shakespeare at Winedale for their ceaseless kindness, intellectual rigor, and emotional support.  Paul Woodruff worked with the stage manager and cast through a reading of his original translation of Euripides’ The Bacchae.

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